Charlie Brown, the world’s most beloved underdog, embarks upon an epic and heroic quest, while his best pal, the lovable beagle Snoopy, takes to the skies to pursue his arch-nemesis, the Red Baron.
On October 2, 1950, Charles M. Schulz introduced the characters of Charlie Brown, Shermy and Patty in just seven newspapers, launching a 50-year journey for the cartoonist that forever changed the landscape of popular culture and humor. “Charlie Brown gets referred to as a loser all the time,” laments Craig Schulz, the son of Charles M. Schulz and one of THE PEANUTS MOVIE’s writers and producers. “But in reality, Charlie Brown is a winner because he never gives up. We all lose a lot more than we win,and who better than Charlie Brown to teach us that?”
With a knack for social commentary, Charles M. Schulz created characters and storylines rich with wit, sarcasm, humor and heart. In the mid-1960s, he introduced the character of Peppermint Patty. A tomboy at heart, she excelled in sports. In the 21stcentury, that seems par for the course, but in the 1960s, the introduction of girls playing sports on the same team as boys was nearly a decade ahead of its time. A few years later, in 1968, Schulz introduced the first black character to the strip, Franklin, as a classmate and teammate of Peppermint Patty and Marcie.
Eight years ago, the Schulz family received a call from Blue Sky Studios, the computer animation film studio owned by 20th Century Fox. “They asked, just as everyone else had asked, if we would be interested in doing a movie,” recalls writer-producer Craig Schulz, who replied with a courteous, ‘thanks, but no thanks.’ “But then they asked if they could just show us some material. I replied, ‘Sure, but we’ll never do a movie.’ ”
Cut to: director Steve Martino, who passionately made a case for Blue Sky’s vision to bring the beloved characters back to the big screen.Craig Schulz, along with Jean Schulz (Charles M. Schulz’s widow) and Craig’s brother and sisters, saw something special about the Blue Sky’s early concept work that sparked their attention and imagination. Craig Schulz recalls: “When you looked at the world…the trees, the ice, the snow, I knew then that if you could do it right, it would be spectacular.”
Over the next few years, Fox Animation Studios executive Ralph Millero nurtured and managed the relationship with Craig Schulz and Jean Schulz. Finally in 2012, Craig Schulz phoned Millero to say that he had a script that he had written with his son Bryan Schulz and the younger Schulz’s writing partner, Cornelius Uliano. (The three screenwriters also serve as producers). Millero took the script to Fox Animation Studios president Vanessa Morrison, who immediately set the wheels in motion. Martino says getting the nod to proceed with THE PEANUTS MOVIE was “a humbling moment.” Rounding out the producing team is one of the film industry’s most respected filmmakers, the multi-talented (and lifelong PEANUTS fan) Paul Feig. “I almost fainted when Ralph Millero approached me to work on the film,” jokes Feig.
To kick-off production, Craig Schulz brought acclaimed artist Tom Everhart to Blue Sky Studios to meet with the filmmakers and artists. Everhart is known for his larger-than-life interpretations of Snoopy, Charlie Brown and the rest of the PEANUTS Gang, which have been exhibited in galleries around the globe—including the Louvre Museum in Paris, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, in Tokyo, and of course, the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center in Santa Rosa, California, a museum dedicated to the work and legacy of the famed cartoonist.
To capture the characters’ unique traits, Martino and producer Michael J. Travers immersed the crew in the world of PEANUTS. They began that journey with a visit to the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center. The story team, led by Jim Kammerud (head of story) and story artist Karen Disher traveled to Santa Rosa for what would become the first of many expeditions.
For insight into the subtleties of Schulz’s work, the artists, animators and story team turned to Paige Braddock, of Charles M. Schulz Creative Associates. As Creative Director, Braddock is responsible for the look and creative development of all PEANUTS-related products worldwide, as well as the editorial direction of the publishing initiatives. “Paige was an invaluable resource to all of us,” says Martino.
To generations that grew up with the PEANUTS specials, the voices of Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, Sally and the rest of gang are ingrained in our minds. Casting the right young actors would be crucial to the film’s success. The filmmakers met with over 1,000 hopefuls on both the East and West Coasts. To gauge cadence and rhythm, they auditioned the actors using dialogue and script passages from the PEANUTS.
After an exhausting search, Martino found his Charlie Brown in ten-year-old, Scarsdale, New York resident Noah Schnapp. “Noah has a great voice for Charlie Brown, but also has a similar temperament to the character,” says Martino.
Casting the voice of Linus led to several sleepless nights for Martino. Eleven- year-old Alex Garfin, from New York, landed the role. It takes a confident actress to play Lucy, and Martino found that in ten-year-old Huntington Beach, California native Hadley Miller. Although the Little Red-Haired Girl has only a few lines, she is an undeniable force in the story, as Charlie Brown’s major crush. Ten-year-old Francesca Capaldi, best known for work on the Disney Channel TV show “Dog with a Blog,” takes on the role.